Choosing a Sustainability Champion

05/01/2009 |

Who is leading green initiatives at your organization?

Whether you’re managing a portfolio of retail stores throughout the United States, maintaining multiple facilities on a college campus, or developing office properties and distribution centers coast to coast, you’ve probably already undertaken environmentally friendly initiatives. But, the question is: Who’s leading these initiatives?

More companies have added a new position to their staff rosters, and the roles and responsibilities of this new position are as vast as the list of potential titles (chief environmental officer, sustainability analyst, national director of sustainability, etc.). Essentially, someone in this role is tasked with defining an environmental mission, creating programs, providing training, and developing new approaches to carry it out.

Perhaps the most important responsibility of the sustainability officer is to provide communication throughout the organization about environmental commitment, the programs that support it, and the progress being made to achieve objectives. This can happen through regular conference calls, face-to-face meetings, e-mail updates, articles in company newsletters, etc. Regular meetings help Richmond, IN-based Earlham College’s Director of Facilities and Chief Environmental Officer Alan Bigger stay informed. “I meet with the students and faculty every single week,” he explains. The college’s environmental responsibility committee, which is made up of a wide variety of stakeholders, discusses sustainability goals and initiatives.

It’s important to bring together representatives from many different departments (marketing, corporate communications, various operational groups, etc.), emphasizes Sarah Martinez, sustainability analyst at ProLogis, Denver. Biweekly sustainability meetings help her build awareness about sustainability and integrate it into multiple aspects of the company’s operations. “If you think of sustainability in terms of the triple bottom line – economic, environmental, and social impacts – it’s pretty difficult to think of a department that isn’t impacted by one of those,” she explains.

Another important responsibility is to identify needs and opportunities for training related to sustainability – whether it be in conjunction with industry associations and their programs (BOMA Intl.’s BEEP program), or exclusively internal. At Los Angeles-based CB Richard Ellis, the company prides itself on being a learning organization. It has created and designed a suite of training modules to help its property managers understand everything from why sustainability is important to how to benchmark energy consumption with the U.S. EPA’s ENERGY STAR®.

When developing sustainability programs, many organizations and their designated experts realize that there’s strength in numbers. What could be better than one green champion? Many green champions. CB Richard Ellis and ProLogis have volunteer programs to find regional experts to help communicate company commitment and the sustainable actions that can be taken to meet it. “We began to seek people who, just by their nature, their history, or their passion, were connected to sustainability. What we found was that there were a number of people across the country for whom sustainability was already a way of life,” says Dave Pogue, national director of sustainability at CB Richard Ellis, San Jose, CA. Thus, the company’s Green Knights program was born. With at least one Green Knight in each of its markets, these individuals serve as regional go-to experts. “We’re really giving them the highest level of advice, counsel, and training so they can be local advocates and experts,” he says.

ProLogis began its Sustainability Champions program to make sustainability part of the company DNA. “We had a number of very impressive corporate programs about sustainability, but [these efforts] don’t necessarily translate into a sustainable ethic at all levels of the organization,” Martinez explains. Thanks to its Sustainability Champions program, the company has begun defining what ProLogis really means when it talks about minimizing its environmental impact. The effort has generated excitement, improved communication, and raised awareness – without a huge capital outlay.

Pogue and Martinez recommend making green champion programs voluntary. “We didn’t think we could just go out and assign somebody because, at its core, we really wanted people who believed in what they were doing,” explains Pogue. When implementing a similar program in your organization, “it has to be espoused at the top, committed with resources, and allowed to grow from the bottom.”

Jana J. Madsen is a Cedar Rapids, IA-based freelance writer with nine years of experience in writing about the commercial buildings industry.


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